Racing in 2020

It has taken me a bit to unpack this last race, my first race since covid cancelled my regular season.  My only other race this year was in January, and there were some difficult situations surrounding that event that I didn’t want to carry forward into my 2021 season.  I saw an opportunity for a 20km track race in Ohio, not a race of any significance, but it would provide a physical and mental shake out that I needed to end 2020.  It was supposed to be a chance to get back on the track and mentally get through a race without it falling apart.  I had been injured for the two months leading up to the race and had done very minimal race walking, but cross training had kept me fit and I felt ready for the challenge.

During my last shift at work before I left town, I was shaken by the sudden death of a lovely coworker and friend.  It was difficult to get my brain re-engaged in racing and get myself ready to head to Ohio the next day.  My children were very distraught to see me go, I have never had such a day of tantrums and meltdowns from them pre-race.  I was emotionally drained, but looking forward to the trip and some time away.  We did our pre-race temporary tattoo tradition and I was ready to get on the road.

The Casey clan breaks out the temporary tattoos the night before I leave home

The trip started with two days in Portland to get the two required Covid-19 tests prior to racing.  Usually I am anxious about traveling on my own for races and don’t sleep well, but I have been working on lots of mental strategies to cope and things were going surprisingly well.  I got to see my physical therapy team to address my recent injury and spend time with a close friend.  For the first race that I can remember in a long time, I felt at peace, prepared, and excited to get on the plane and head to Ohio.

I had a layover in Denver, before I even got off the plane my husband was calling to put my screaming kids on the phone because they only wanted me.  I talked to my kids and hubby for awhile and got things settled down at home.  My coach was messaging me about race plans, one of my least favorite topics of conversation. I generally freeze up and feel like I don’t even know where to start to come up with one. I replied back to his message with a thought that I had been carrying around since our last conversation a couple days ago.  I got a surprising reply that he was done coaching me, don’t call him, don’t message him and he blocked me from contacting him.  I was so confused, I thought there must be some misunderstanding and I sent him an email explaining what I had meant by my last message and asking him to please call me once I landed in Ohio.

I had no word from my coach when I arrived in Ohio, but I had a friend picking me up at the airport that I would be staying with.  It was a relief to not be on my own and have some company for the rest of the trip.  I had one day to relax in Ohio before race day, and I did my best to stay settled and enjoy myself.  We went for a nice shake out walk and spent time with another race walking friend.  I kept thinking that I would hear from my coach and be able to amend things, my friend I was staying with even contacted him and asked if he could mediate a conversation between the two of us, but my coach was not willing to communicate with me in any way except through his silence.

I let things get to me more as the day wore on.  I was grieving these two parallel sudden and unexpected losses, my friend/coworker and my coach/friend. Neither of which was easy to grasp.  One that was inflicted on me by someone that I had the greatest trust for, at a time when I was so vulnerable.  By the time I went to bed I didn’t even want to race in the morning.  Why had I come all this way and put in all of this effort for it to all turn out like this?  I slept very little that night and woke up with tears still on my pillow.  But I knew that I had to pull my head together and do it.  I found an old voice note from my coach that he had sent the morning of a race I did last year and listened to that, hearing his voice helped with some of the hurt.  I got up and got through my pre-race routine without much more thought of things, making myself eat breakfast and get to the track.  

Pre-race inspiration from Joel Pfahler
Photo Credit: Athletes in Action

I had imagined being on the start line feeling so calm and ready, and instead I felt worthless.  The gun went off and things went well until about 12km.  I had gone out at a relatively easy pace and planned to pick it up later in the race.  But around 12km my stomach cramped up and every time I tried going faster it felt like someone punched me in the gut.  So I maintained my pace instead, frustrated that it was this belly pain that I was letting hold me back instead of the burning lungs and legs as I had imagined.  Did I mess up the fueling?  Too much carbohydrate?  Was it all the stress?  A mental barrier that I was not willing to cross?  I don’t know.  I got to the finish line about 30 seconds over my PB, saw stars and passed out briefly on the infield.  I am pretty sure that was the emotional toll of it all.

David Swarts, Katie Burnett, and myself working hard on the track early in the race
Photo Credit: Athletes in Action

My immediate reaction was frustration and sadness.  Frustrated that I felt I hadn’t done my best, I hadn’t given it everything I had.  I could have or should have or wish I had pushed myself harder physically but I copped out.  Sad that I couldn’t call my coach and tell him how it went.  But I did show up in the midst of trials and I came away with a lot of important lessons.  It is all a process of learning and growing and becoming a better person and a better athlete.  And now I have a lot of room to grow for next time.  And I am so grateful for all of the people who have come alongside me to care for me, pray for me, and love on me during this time. There is healing that is being done, and I am excited to see what God has in store for me next.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NKJV

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  1. 1

    Too many beloved coaches turn out to be in it for their own ego and power, rather than to help the athlete realize their potential. I’m sorry about your pain and grieving. But in the long run, good riddance to him. Hard lessons. Best wishes to you in 2021.

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    Great article! Thank you for sharing this informative post, and looking forward to the latest one.
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